Dirty Paws (Short Sharp Shocks! Book 0)
Dean M. Drinkel
As part of #DemainDecember on this blog, I’m reviewing as many titles from Horror publisher Demain Publishing as I can in the first week of December. Because, quite frankly, nothing typifies the spirit of Christmas more to me than seven days (at least!) of high-quality short-form Horror fiction encompassing a number of different subgenres. So over the coming week, as well as any other reviews I manage to write up, I’ll be reviewing some of the Horror, Sci-Fi (and Crime) novellas recently released by Demain, as well as a number of titles in their excellent Short Sharp Shocks! imprint.
We begin with Book 0 in the Short Sharp Shocks! series, the curiously titled Dirty Paws by author and editor Dean M. Drinkel. As usual there’s the excellent cover design and artwork by Adrian Baldwin – which has done so much to make Demain’s titles stand out in a crowded genre – and the presence of a menacing ape on the cover provides a small clue as to what we’re going to encounter within the short. According to the short foreword by Mr Drinkel, this tile takes a certain amount of inspiration from Edgar Allan Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue and also Clive Barker’s follow-up, New Murders in the Rue Morgue to create an homage. I’m passingly familiar with Poe’s classic murder-mystery, though not Barker’s titles, and I was intrigued to see what Mr Drinkel could come up with.
Given the smaller word count of the Short Sharp Shock! titles I’m going to try and be deliberately vague about the plot to avoid comprehensively spoiling it, but suffice to say that Mr Drinkel has written a fast-paced and deeply atmospheric murder-mystery, but also one that has an oddly compelling, off-beat feel to it. Set in modern-day Paris, we follow two down-and-outs who inhabit the dark, seedy fringes of society, working together to con people they meet in the shadowy corners of bars and night-clubs. Usually they just have to resort to a bit of implied violence to get the money they want, but this time something’s gone wrong – terribly wrong. Their victim seemed strangely behaved, far more worried about returning to his lodges at a very specific time than being tied up and threatened, and the resulting scuffle leads to our two protagonists fleeing and descending into debauchery to try and forget. But whatever was in the man’s room doesn’t forget, and they soon find themselves pursued by something strange and sinister as they move through Paris.
The atmosphere that Drinkel develops, even in such a short wordcount, is astonishingly good to be frank, weaving together modern-day perversions with the air and style of Poe’s 19th Century Paris to create an engaging (and stomach-churning) blend of moral corruption, sexual perversion and general decadence that both pays tribute to Poe’s original story while also expanding upon it. Maxime and Lea aren’t the most detailed of characters, but Drinkel is still able to deftly sketch out the complex, ever-changing relationship that both repulses them and yet also ties them together. I certainly didn’t like them or empathise with them, as the reader, but I still appreciated watching them as the narrative progressed and things began to fall apart for them (even more than their lives had already cracked). Drinkel has a good eye for mystery as a concept, and until the last few pages I was genuinely unsure where the story was going to go. In the end, he presents us with a cunningly updated version of Poe’s tale that has a shocking ending that perfectly suits the mood he evokes throughout the narrative. Dirty Paws is an engaging and often uncomfortable read that serves as an excellent introduction both to Drinkel as author (and editor) and the concept of the Short Sharp Shocks! imprint as a whole.